Postcards from Abroad: Shanghai

 
 

Having now settled comfortably back into the new semester, UO columnist Daryl Bolger talks through his holiday adventures, with a difference

As most people who have had the opportunity to go on Erasmus will tell you, one of the biggest benefits is the possibility and ease of travel. My last few weeks have been spent as much in China as out of it. In fact I’m currently writing this article the ferry to Koh Phi Phi from Phuket, on my iPod; probably the first and last time an article for this paper was written in this fashion.

My travel started far less exotically, the standard Erasmus trip home for Christmas; except our journey home was far from unexceptional. In a week when stories of travel chaos were common and Christmas’s ruined became conversational bread and butter, our story spread faster than most. I’ve even had the story told back to me by people unaware I was involved.

It started in Pudong airport when five of us boarded VS251, Virgins Shanghai to London flight, exactly a week before Father Christmas would be visiting both cities on his sleigh. We had a connecting flight to Dublin, but with only an hour layover and horrific weather across Europe, we were fearful of not making it.

Eleven hours in and just two hours out from London and we’d been right to be fearful – the whole of southern England was now inaccessible by air. Instead, our pilot told us, we were to be diverted to Glasgow, a city I’d always wanted to visit, but not in these circumstances.

Weeks of planning now seemed wasted, I’d planned just a ten-day trip home, barely enough to see everyone I wanted to. What’s more, only a handful of people knew I was returning, therefore many planned surprises were in tatters. An hour later, consigned to a few days in Scotland’s biggest city, I noticed the in-flight map now pointed to ‘DUB’ instead of the ‘GLA’ it had moments earlier.

Two minutes later, the pilot came on to say he had an update and everyone’s fingers were immediately crossed in anticipation. “I’m afraid Glasgow airport has shut, we’ve been asked to proceed to Dublin,” announced Captain Fantastic (possibly not his real name).

“I’ve been told there’s several lucky passengers on board whose final destination is Dublin, look for the few people with huge smiles,” he finished. I wouldn’t have been surprised if our smiles were visible to ground control in Dublin. We’d joked in Shanghai about being diverted home but no one honestly believed we would be, it was the most extraordinary stroke of luck.

After an hour on the tarmac and then going through customs, I was on my way home, two hours early, on the same day thousands faced travel misery. I later learnt that a friend on the same route, an hour later spent three nights in Frankfurt, we were astoundingly lucky. I later matched four numbers on the lotto, sensing my luck was up.

A few weeks later and I was on my travels again. Bangkok was our next port of call, where my ridiculous luck with sport in Asia continued. This time it was at a Muay Thai fighting event. We’d asked our hotel reception to bring us, and they obliged, providing tickets. What we didn’t know was that the fight was to be held in a television studio and broadcast on live TV across Asia.

After watching the first two fights from the back we were promoted to sit ringside, literally ringside, beads of sweat landed on us several times. The cameraman was then instructed to film us seemingly at the end of every round. Not an ad break went by without us being featured in a close up at the start or end; it was truly bizarre.

Our next stop was the Thai-Laos border. An hour-long border crossing and four hours on a bus later and we were in Vang Vieng, known universally for tubing. To those not in the know, tubing involves renting a tube and floating down a river, being pulled into bars along the way. The drink of choice is a whisky bucket and swimming is replaced by swings and ziplibes into the river. As a group we forewent the tubes and walked between bars. A wise decision as we never made it more than 150m along the 4km route.

A €50 flight later and I’ve found myself on this boat to Phi Phi. I’ll spare everyone the details because we’ve all heard them dozens of times before. From here it’s to the infamous Full Moon party next week to bathe myself in body paint.

Daryl Bolger is a UCD student currently studying abroad for a year in Shanghai.

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